The Book's Mythical Beasts

I thought it would be helpful to provide some context for the mythical beasts in The Soul Stealer. To prevent spoilers, it may be better if you read this after you’ve read the book.

China has a plethora of mythical creatures, as you can tell from the country’s art and literature. These creatures are often chimeras—hybrid beasts composed of different animal parts.

Every mythical creature in The Soul Stealer is found in China’s Shanhaijing and other classical texts. The Shanhaijing, literally meaning the Classic of Mountains and Seas in Mandarin, is an ancient compilation of China’s myths and legends. Early versions of the Shanhaijing date back to 4th century BCE.

Please note that I took liberties with the myths in The Soul Stealer in order to further the book’s plot.

Black Cranes

The red-crowned crane is an important bird in Chinese art and culture.

Cranes are viewed as divine entities that can travel between the heavenly and worldly realms. The birds carry departed souls to heaven and provide rides to immortals.

According to Chinese myth, cranes come in four colors: black, white, yellow and blue. Black cranes are believed to have lived for centuries.


The longma—“dragon horse” in Mandarin—is a mythical winged horse covered with dragon scales. It is a symbol of good fortune and vitality.


Depending on whom you ask, a tenghuang is either a fox-like creature with wings and horns on its back, or a horse-like creature. Riding the tenghuang can increase a person’s lifespan by up to 2,000 years.


According to the Shanhaijing, Xiangliu was a monstrous snake with nine human heads. He was chief minister to an evil water god known as Gonggong.

Gonggong rebelled against the Jade Emperor, the supreme ruler of Heaven. The water god unleashed terrible floods. Xiangliu assisted by turning the land boggy and barren.

Xiangliu fled when Gonggong was defeated. The snake monster eventually was killed by the legendary king Yu the Great after a battle. Xiangliu’s blood soaked into the soil, poisoning the region and rendering it uninhabitable.

Yu restored the land by digging a deep valley beside Kunlun Mountain and dumping into it the soil and waters tainted by Xiangliu’s blood. Yu used the earth he dug up to build a terraced mountain for the gods.


Zhenniao—“poison-feather birds” in Mandarin—are poisonous birds that supposedly lived in southern China. There are various versions of the birds. One version describes the birds as raptors with green-tipped feathers. These raptors acquire their toxicity from eating vipers.

In another version, the birds are goose-like, with dark-purple feathers and copper-colored beaks. The goose-like birds are so poisonous their feathers are dipped in liquor to create a brew used for assassinations.